So, what is Gluten?

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Well, gluten (pronounced: gloo'ten) is a protein component found in many grassy grains, including but not limited to wheat, barley and rye. The term gluten is derived from the Latin (gluten) meaning “glue” and as such it is found naturally in combination, stuck together with starch protein. Gluten’s chemical properties offer bread and other gluten-based foods a stretchy quality during the mixing and rising phases of baking - think sticky & expanding - and then a chewy consistency after baking. The gluten protein is found in the endosperm of grain seeds and can account for a majority of the grain seed, upwards of 80%. Surrounded by an outer shell or "hull", the endosperm is the heart of the grain seed and serves to nourish the seed embryo during growth.

OK, that’s a quick and dirty definition for our purposes. Gluten is a major component of popular and cost effective grains and is found extensively in breads, cereals, pasta and the like. But it’s also found in tons of other foods that you wouldn’t expect to contain wheat or gluten. This is mainly because popular (Western) food processing methods utilize grain and grain byproducts as fillers and additives. Sneaky methods of introducing gluten into otherwise gluten-free foods occurs commonly through broths, flavoring extracts, preservatives and ambiguous ingredients like “Modified Food Starch”. At first it's a little tricky, but you'll get the hang of it in no time. Get ready to start reading food labels like it’s your job.

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People who are “sensitive” to gluten will have a physical bodily reaction when gluten is ingested. This reaction can be as mild as a minor histamine response (allergy) or as severe as constant digestive distress as found in people who suffer with Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder. So a gluten reaction may be as subtle as an upset tummy or as extreme as a chronic condition that can permanently compromise a person’s digestive tract (diminished villi). The severity of a gluten sensitivity is all a matter of a person’s body chemistry and the resulting allergy response or as with Celiac the overactive immune system response.

Clarification: a gluten allergy is a condition where one’s body produces a response to isolate and rid the body of an allergen (in this case, gluten) that the body identifies as chemically incompatible. Taking it a step further, celiac disease can be triggered by a gluten allergy, but it escalates to a state where the body’s autoimmune system overreacts to an allergen (gluten) and ultimately attacks the body itself, specifically the intestinal walls that facilitate the absorption of nutrients.

Common Gluten Allergy symptoms include runny nose, scratchy throat, itchy mouth, watery eyes, nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, mucousy stool and weight loss.

Common Celiac symptoms include more extreme presentations of the Gluten Allergy symptoms PLUS malnutrition and a host of other issues compounded by the underlying nutritional deficits.

The onset of a gluten allergy can present at any age but our experience and anecdotal evidence suggest that it most commonly seen in young children or later during puberty. Gluten allergies can be genetically inherited and the severity can vary from generation to generation.

OK, those are the cold, hard facts, but the good news is “Life After Gluten” can be healthy, delicious and easy with a little bit of education and a 'smidge' of advance planning. Our hope is that in a matter of days and weeks, you can learn and incorporate our best practices into a practical plan of shopping, cooking and eating; something that took us fives years to get a handle on and another five years to master.

Hang tight, don’t get discouraged. If we did it, you can too! See [Our Story] and the [Action Plan] to get started with understanding and attacking your new gluten-free life.

Good luck!

~ The LifeAfterGluten Crew

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